Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fun with Seventh Graders [or] Packing Our Invisible Knapsacks

After school last week, I had the privilege of driving Twelve and three of her friends across town to put together 1200 goody bags to get ready for some sort of Harry Potter event. I had a wonderful time, strangely enough, and it was a stellar example of how social class privilege reproduces itself. (Yes, some of us are incapable of having a good time without analyzing everything.)

Fun first: These girls are a total kick in the pants. In the span of maybe 20 minutes (I drove slowly), topics ranged from how Twelve and I look like sisters to how they're not sure about the boy Twelve has a crush on because he uses bad language. I can't even begin to describe the conversation; I was trying mightily to enjoy it fully while remembering everything so I could write about it later, which I never do very well.

A small recording device would come in very handy sometimes.

I was tickled pink about the whole situation for at least two reasons: The girls were talking candidly in the presence of an adult, which I doubt very much will continue very much longer, and they were being distinctly critical of a popular boy because he used 'the word that starts with W and rhymes with door.' He was apparently tossing this term around in Twelve's direction. Granted, I'm critical of anyone who calls people whores, too, but I don't necessarily expect seventh graders to hold their peers to such a high standard. It was incredibly cute how earnestly and innocently appalled they were. Suspicious of the flippant nature of the name-calling incident, I asked the girls if they thought that he knows what that word means. No, they replied, but he has two older brothers who teach him all kinds of stuff, so he probably learned it from them. 

Sensing a teachable moment, I added that it's not necessarily a problem to know the words - Twelve has known all the words for a really long time - it's just a problem if one doesn't know how to use the words only in appropriate contexts. Twelve is technically allowed to use whatever language she wants at home, although she doesn't take advantage of that freedom very often. Our joke is that I better not get any phone calls from school about her using 'bad' words, and the fact that this is a shared joke indicates that she's on board. 

Ah, I am in such a bubble of pre-adolescent bliss.

Twelve has always been exposed to a great deal of very adult conversation, both in the terms used and in the topics discussed, and I've done that very intentionally: I want her to know what's going on. I know the feeling of not getting whatever other people are talking about; not knowing what 'boner' meant in seventh grade caused me at least one miserable class period, and just the other day I had to consult Urban Dictionary to grasp the point of a Facebook comment thread about feltching.

Note: I do not recommend finding out what feltching is.

Anyway, we proceeded to the event center, and I walked the girls inside. One of the girls' dads is the director of the whole department, which is how this whole thing came about, and it happens to be the first place I worked after college (the first time), so I know the woman who runs the center. As the girls introduced themselves and were shown to their work area, it dawned on me that this is exactly how the intangible aspects of class privilege accrue. Being behind the scenes of a cultural event held at a major state university's conference center auditorium provides tidbits of information about things that members of the privileged class know and take for granted:
  • Stately buildings exist for the sole purpose of gathering well-dressed people for cultural and intellectual pursuits. 
  • It’s someone’s job to organize everything and delegate responsibility, and there are other people whose job it is to do what she says. 
  • The person in charge wears her choice of professional clothing and shoes, and the other people wear matching polo shirts, khaki pants, and serviceable shoes. 
  • Vendor areas are common to such events, and each space is delineated by a system of ‘pipe and drape’ (which is exactly what it sounds like). 
  • Clean water is available via several drinking fountains. 
  • Clean restrooms, always fully stocked, are located to the left and right.
What am I missing? I don’t know; I’m sure there’s an equally long list of things of which I’m completely unaware.

Twelve, having attended many events at that particular venue, already had a great deal of the kind of context that helps you soak up even more information, and the process will continue until her invisible knapsack is fully stocked. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sisterly Advice

My little sister called me this afternoon for a chat. She calls on a regular basis during her commute to work, usually just to check in, sometimes to ask, like she did last week, what Twelve wants for the holidays (what is it with people planning holiday gifts two months ahead of time?), and occasionally for advice. 

A bit of background on my baby sister: She's twenty-six, six-foot-one, and outweighs me by a good 20 pounds of muscle. She graduated from high school as valedictorian/class president/queen of all the heteronormative celebrations, went directly to college from which she graduated in exactly four years, got married to the guy she'd gone out on a first date with ON VALENTINE'S DAY, was recruited to do the job she'd gone to college for, and had a baby approximately four days after they paid off their student loans. She's your basic poster child for doing everything by the book, and she tries to humor her crazy big sister.

I, the big sister who accidentally dropped the damn book in the toilet right after high school, try not to be condescending about her lack of real-world experience, even though she somehow manages to be condescending about the subjects of my graduate studies.

Since I am apparently the closest thing she has to a professional woman mentor, the advice phone calls started shortly after she started her job. We talked about things like not letting your employer take advantage of you and how to bring workload issues up in a productive way: I'm finding that task x is taking me longer than we anticipated, which leaves less time time for activity y.

She caught on fast, gained confidence as she went along, and successfully negotiated an acceptable part-time arrangement after the baby was born. She and her husband are able to arrange their work schedules so that, with a bit of help from the grandparents, they don't need outside childcare: He works in the mornings, she works in the afternoons.

Today, she called to talk about the fact that it's not working very well; her husband is often late getting home, so she's late to work frequently enough that people are starting to notice. My sister is Type A enough that this bothers her a lot, and my suspicion is that her husband tends to brush it off because he know she's more tightly strung in this regard than he is.

However, this whole thing is a much bigger deal than occasionally being a few minutes late to work. As I explained to my sister, working mothers are held to a higher standard than non-mothers. It's entirely unfair, of course, but it's a real phenomenon. It's not just about you, personally, either, I continued. You're representing all working women. Just as people of color understand that any social transgression - chewing open-mouthed, being late for a meeting, laughing too loudly or interrupting too much - may be taken as an indictment of their entire race, so must working mothers be particularly careful. Because society has defined the ideal worker as someone who is free of household or familial responsibility and the ideal mother as someone who is 100% focused on her children, employed women are presumed to be insufficiently committed to their jobs unless they perform perfectly. No one performs perfectly, of course, but mothers tend not to be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to things like being late.

This isn't really making me feel any better, my sister replied with the barest hint of sarcasm. She had caught me in the act of climbing up on this particular soapbox. I chuckled, and changed course to the advice part, which is easy. The problem is a logistical one - it's not about what either of them are doing or intending, it's about the fact that they need more transition time. My brother-in-law has the flexibility to start work earlier and get home earlier, and it's time to take advantage of that. My sister just needs to initiate a conversation that doesn't accuse him of being a lazy, inconsiderate jerk and that does include a possible solution: Ya know what? We've been trying it this way, and it isn't working. Let's try giving ourselves more time! She seemed relieved to realize that the solution was so simple, and I suggested that she discuss the working mothers' unfairly higher standard as a rhetorical buttress.

I may also have offered to come give my brother-in-law a PowerPoint presentation on the social construction of motherhood and ideal worker norms.

For me, this conversation was a triple win: I love being asked for advice, I am thrilled when I get to provide a useful solution, and my sister is showing signs of taking one of my professional interests seriously.

Now I'm starting with the ahead-of-time holiday gift ideas: The Dialectic of Sex for my sister and Unbending Gender: How Work and Family Conflict and What to Do About It for my brother-in-law. 

[insert sarcastically evil chuckle here]

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Luddite and Okay With It

I got an out-of-the-blue email from my ex the other day, saying that he knows that we don't usually coordinate holiday gifts, but that they're giving Twelve the headphones that she wants and he just wants to make sure we don't both give them to her. As far as I know, he's referring to the brightly colored Beats by Dre headphones that retail for approximately my entire monthly grocery budget.

I haven't replied to the email, because the response that comes to mind is something along the lines of YOU'VE GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME IF YOU THINK I CAN AFFORD THREE HUNDRED DOLLAR HEADPHONES.

I don't mind the headphones themselves, actually; I like the bright colors, I appreciate their fresh design, and I presume that they're relatively high quality. I don't think that a) teenagers can appreciate the difference in audio quality or b) that it matters, given the crappy music they listen to, but I'm not holding that against the product itself. I just hope Twelve gets the color she wants - and that the color she wants doesn't change between the time she puts in her order and when she gets them.

The thing that annoys me (secondarily to my ex being a douche canoe) is that I am aware of this product's existence.

Knowing more than I want to about various aspects of popular culture is, I've concluded, a byproduct of having an adolescent daughter. We were watching all the LMFAO videos the other night (some of them are just dumb, but I adore the satirical portrayal of men waggling their secondary sex characteristics around in public), and Twelve pointed out all the Beats by Dre headphones - sorry, they're referred to as Beats, I looked it up - in the video. 

I like being clueless about the newest trendy gadget that I can't afford and didn't know I needed (hellooo, iThings). I pride myself on not knowing the latest teenage singers or current television offerings. I keep track of my schedule in an actual notebook, using an actual pencil that periodically needs sharpening in an actual pencil sharpener. I read real books. I still don't have a smartphone, for Pete's sake (and I just used the expression 'for Pete's sake').

So, it's pretty galling to know about Twilight, One Direction, several of the identikit young teenage girl musicians who have come (and not necessarily gone) in the last few years, and those doggone Nike Elite socks. 

It's an imperfect and inconsistent cluelessness, of course. I resolutely avoided finding out who Lady Gaga was for an admirably long time, but then when I finally gave in and watched all of her videos, I loved them (because awesome). I scoff at the latest ridiculous fashion trends only unless I really like something, like legwarmers, of which I made four pairs last night out of sweater sleeves, because that's how I roll. Granted, I checked the internet and I am not the first person who realized that legwarmers and sleeves are similarly shaped, but my version (that uses the band at the hem of the sweater to finish the cut-off end of the sleeve) is by far the best if I do say so myself. I started a doctorate program in an apparel design department with no clue that premium denim was a thing (irony!), and three years later all my jeans are Paige, Joe's, and Habitual.

Twelve's home from school now, so I'm off to get her to troubleshoot this outfit for me; the legwarmers are working with my Cate the Great boots, but I don't like what's going on above the knee.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Parenting, Krupnik Style

My parenting heroes are Katherine and Myron Krupnik. You know, Anastasia's parents. You've met them, right? From the Lois Lowry novels? I've been thinking about how I've been meaning to write about the smiles that Twelve and I have shared when she's done or said something particularly Anastasia-like: Complaining about her oily hair and being embarrassment about my existence. I absolutely love it that we have Anastasia as a common reference; it means I don't have to inflict the Twilight novels on myself to have something in common with Twelve, and I cherish those shared smiles.

Because who knows how much longer we'll have them.

Last night, I realized that in addition to being charming and hysterically funny, the Anastasia books are useful parenting manuals. Anastasia's parents always seem to respond effectively to whatever adolescent nonsense she manages to throw at them. Because I have a policy of not changing my dissertation topic every time a new and exciting idea presents itself, I can't do a proper analysis, but this is a good excuse to jot down a few examples of how my parenting style has been influenced by my favorite fictional family. 

When Anastasia wanders into the room, her parents pay attention to her. Sometimes they carry on with what they're doing, sometimes they stop, but they almost always engage her in conversation. The dinner table is a place to discuss Anastasia's problems and, occasionally, make lists of possible solutions. I am not always great at either of these things - I try to strike a balance between being available and teaching Twelve that it's rude to interrupt - but I have learned that there's magic in follow-up questions, even on the most inane topics. If I bring something up, I get a dismissive one-word reply, but if she mentions something, I can usually gently encourage her to keep talking. As annoying as driving to and from volleyball practice can be, we can't do much other than chat during that time, and she'll often pipe up with something that's on her mind.

The Krupniks take Anastasia and her feelings seriously, even when she's being ridiculous. When she asks her father to take her to the store to buy a goldfish for their new neighbor, Myron agrees, no questions asked. When she tells her mother that she's afraid that she's going to have to marry Robert Giannini, Katherine listens to her concerns and provides useful perspective and advice. Katherine indulges her daughter's feelings that her hair is too oily by offering a new bottle of shampoo.

At the same time that they're taking her seriously, Myron and Katherine tease Anastasia and allow her to tease them back. When Anastasia is melodramatically acting out death scenes and says that she's, like Cleopatra (presumably), clasping an asp to her bosom, Katherine points out that it "must have been a heck of a disappointment for the asp. You hardly even have a bosom." Anastasia chucks a pillow at her mother, and (after a few groaning lessons - Anastasia had been pronouncing the word 'groan' instead of actually groaning) they discuss Anastasia's feelings over coffee and Kool-Aid. Twelve and I tease each other constantly. She's getting pretty good at it, too.

The senior Krupniks allow Anastasia to make as many choices as possible without letting her yank them around; Anastasia decides for herself whether or not to go to California for an aunt's funeral, but within an appropriate time frame. They go out of their way to solicit Anastasia's contributions on matters large and small. Katherine even asks her where a particular bowl should go in the cabinets when they're moving into their new house; it's a tiny thing, and it was asked as a side note when Anastasia came into the room to say she misses her old wallpaper, but it's a clear example of how her parents make Anastasia feel like a participating member of the household. Then, Katherine validates Anastasia's feelings by offering to find out if the wallpaper is still available for her new room. I do this kind of thing as much as possible. It helps that Twelve is an only child and that R is not her parent, but I try to treat her like a roommate as much as I can. A roommate I have authority over, but who gets to weigh in on certain household decisions: We are currently competing with ourselves to see how long we can go without firing up the furnace - I'm not sure why.

Katherine and Myron are always realistic and honest, and occasionally meta: The chances of Anastasia being discovered by the film industry during a two-day visit to LA are, as Katherine says in one humorous exchange, zero. Then, when Anastasia complains that her mom could have been more supportive, Katherine explains her parenting approach: "I'm being honest, and honesty is supportive." I feel like it's important for adolescents to understand why parents do what they do. I often tell Twelve things like, I've already told you x and I need to be consistent, so please don't ask again.

The Krupnik household has a clear intellectual focus. Myron responds to Anastasia's chronic overuse of the word 'weird' by listing a few the possible synonyms ("PHANTASMAGORICAL!"), and when Anastasia mentions Cosmo, he rhetorically points out that the family subscribes to a variety of high quality material. I bribed Twelve with cold, hard cash last summer to break herself of the habit of, like, saying 'like' every, like, other word (which worked, and raised her apparent IQ by about twenty points), and I keep trying to casually hand her the latest issue of our state Historical Quarterly journal. I think she might have flipped through one, once. The Krupnik parents and I share, I'm sure, a sense of resignation regarding adolescent interests.

I know, I know; I left out at least one major theme, and I didn't cite my sources or give page numbers of quoted material. There isn't even a Works Cited section! Luckily, diaries are not peer-reviewed or examined by committee members, and it's your loss if you haven't yet read the Anastasia books, so I don't care.

I'm going to take another look at my dissertation outline now. I doubt that I can work in an Anastasia reference, but I'll try.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Interstitial Parenting, Part Six: Materialism

When I was a few years younger than Twelve, I wanted a certain pair of LA Gear shoes. High tops, with the twisty leather 'flame' detail on the sides. Hot pink and ... was it purple? Hang on, let me look this up ...

Green. Looks like the color combos were hot pink and lime green or purple and black ... eww, I had forgotten about the velcro strap across the top. Wait a minute ... NO FREAKING WAY! They're making a 20th anniversary version! Hang on, this is too funny, let me post it on Facebook ...

Anyway, I wanted those shoes something fierce. I was dead set on the particulars, too. A friend got the low top ones because she had broken her leg or something and the high tops didn't fit with her cast, and I just could not believe that she had settled for the low tops.

I never did get them; my family wasn't particularly wealthy and any extra cash was devoted to the pursuits of the head of household, not to the desires of the children's hearts. His stinginess didn't matter so much at the time because I was homeschooled and there wasn't anyone to impress. When I started junior high, though, it would have been nice to have the right clothes and shoes, and by 'it would have been nice' I mean 'it would have made a huge difference and maybe I wouldn't have felt so much like a complete dork and utter outsider.'

In principle, I am now smugly opposed to excessive material goods. I believe that the truly important things in life are relationships, anything sewn by hand, and delicate pink depression glass cocktail glasses. It drives me nuts that Twelve wants a Coach wallet and a Juicy Couture charm bracelet, partly because both are ghastly, but mostly because she's been trained to desire brand names rather than to assess aesthetic value.

In reality, I recognize that having certain personal artifacts helps Twelve fit in with her peers. This is why I don't mind so much that she has an iPod touch, a Kindle, two pairs of Toms (don't get me started on Toms), and a pair of Nikes that I think have a name but are basically just very brightly colored sneakers. This is why, for her birthday, I gave her a pair of socks that cost fourteen dollars and are JUST SOCKS. They are not even good Smartwool socks with cushion and warmth. They are regular old basketball socks with a bizarrely skeletal design, but they are all the rage, apparently, and the gift was a success. I'm not thrilled with the iPod because, okay, I'm a bit of a Luddite and I want her to interact more in three dimensions. I've made my peace with it because it helps her stay in touch with people and because there's not a lot I can do about it, but it's an uneasy truce that I'm not quite sure about. 

Thankfully, I suppose, Twelve gets the really expensive stuff from her dad, and thankfully she's perceptive enough to be more appreciative of $14 socks from me than of $140 shoes from him. We've even begun to joke about how she basically puts in her orders for birthday and holiday gifts ahead of time. 

I'd like for my daughter to scoff at people who slavishly follow fashion. I'd like her to try to develop her own style or pick one of the non-mainstream ones; gothic, perhaps, or punk, or just brightly colored hair. If nothing else, I'd like her to be an early adopter, and be dedicated to knowing about and wearing the freshest fashions before anyone else. Instead, Twelve fits in. She's cool.

I ask Twelve questions about her experiences at school and with friends mostly because I want to have a sense of how she spends her days and with whom, but there's a wistful undercurrent there, too.

I'd like to know what it's like to be cool.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Interstitial Parenting, Part Five: To Helicopter or Not to Helicopter? What a Dumb Question

I'm completely scornful of helicopter parents, but yesterday I was sorely tempted to become one. We were at one of Twelve's volleyball games, this time one for which I had to drive 20 miles to a middle school I hadn't known existed, and she wasn't getting to play much. Not my favorite situation.

Twelve isn't very good at volleyball. However, neither are her teammates. Games are pretty awful: Balls hitting the floor. Serves going straight into the net. Audience members compelled to constant vigilance, lest we be nailed by the frequent strays.

At last week's home game, Twelve played for three minutes by her own calculation. I didn't time it, but that sounds about right. I figured it was because she had missed practice the day before, but it was her birthday and she had discussed it with her coach ahead of time, so I felt like I was being fairly generous to the coach when I reassured Twelve that it was probably her coach's policy to not play you if you missed practice. So, on the way to yesterday's game, we decided that if she wasn't happy with her playing time, I would help her initiate a conversation with her coach about it (more of that middle-class concerted cultivation of future members of the middle class).

In the first game (set? Match? My volleyball experience consisted of one very confused seventh grade season and the sport is still a mystery to me), Twelve played for about seven of the 40 or so serves in the whole thing. There are only a dozen players on the team, so by my estimate, with six girls on the floor (court? Side?) at a time, that means that there's room for everyone to play half the time.

I'm spending two hours and driving 40 miles to watch my daughter sit on the bench eighty percent of the time? I started getting riled up.

Quietly riled up, in an I'm-just-sitting-here-watching manner, busily conducting indignant yet carefully polite conversations in my head. I'd smile sweetly and open with one of those questions that's really a challenge: "Can you give us a sense of your playing time philosophy? I'm hoping that missing practice for her birthday dinner with extended family won't have long-term consequences for Twelve's playing time."

Depending on the coach's response, I'd need to be ready with several good comebacks. If she says she plays the girls based on ability, I'd sling back one of those questions that pretends that I need clarification on something but is really a challenge: "Are there specific skills that Twelve needs to work on that the other players have? I've noticed that all of the players seem to be working on developing the basic skills, so I'm not sure that I understand why Twelve is being singled out." If the coach says that playing time is determined by attitude and effort, I'd be ready to flip it right back around on her: "My sense is that Twelve is demoralized by knowing that she's not going to play very much anyway, so she's not motivated to try very hard. Can you give her some specific suggestions about what she can do that will result in more playing time?"

I was working myself into quite a frenzy when I realized that I was very close to developing the dreaded helicopterous parentitis.

One of my most highly prized parenting moral high grounds is that I'm not a helicopter parent. I don't consider my child to be a fragile snowflake in need of constant hovering attention and advocacy. I'm proudest of the moments when she's sorted things out for herself and told me about it later. As I teach her to navigate the world, I emphasize that things don't always work out perfectly in your favor.

Okay, so what are some other possible explanations for Twelve not getting much playing time? We've already covered the fact that she sucks, but so does everyone else, so that can't be it. She serves underhand, not overhand, but I think her success rate is about the same, so that shouldn't be it.

I'm pretty sure it's Twelve's lack of hustle. All of the volleyball teams that she's been on have shared a very weird culture of shrieking support of hustling. Everything that the players try to do is subject to shrill shrieks and high fives, regardless of its result: You hit the ball over the net? Woo-hoo! You hit the ball into the net? Woo-hoo! You hit the ball out of bounds and knocked off somebody's glasses? Woo-hoo! We won the game? Woo-hoo! Completely futile scurrying about is valued as much as actual accomplishment.

It's absurd. (It's also very bad for our high-frequency hearing, as R reminds us. Between the shrieking, the official's whistle, and the scoreboard horn, there's no way I'm going to be able to hear [insert name of bird with high-frequency song here] when I'm eighty.)

When I played sports in middle school, I don't think we cheered for pointless hustle just as enthusiastically as we cheered actual success. I wasn't very skilled, to be sure, but my lack of hustle was largely due to the fact that I didn't know what was going on most of the time. I may not have had the skills, but I definitely couldn't react fast enough to use them if I had. I'm not sure how relevant that might be for Twelve, and if her experience is similar to mine in that respect, it will be the very first thing our middle school experiences have had in common. At any rate, Twelve isn't very aggressive and does not see the point of lunging after a ball she won't possibly be able to get, and I think the coach interprets this as her not hustling and therefore doesn't play her as much.

I probably won't bring this up with the coach. I suppose I could ask her for some skill-building drills that I could help Twelve with at home, but I value my near environment and I'd rather not see it destroyed. I also have a hundred or so pages of a dissertation to write in the next ten months, and no real clue how that's supposed to happen.

It was just scary to realize that it wouldn't be so difficult to fall into the helicopter parent trap. Having a reasonably successful and privileged child has kept me smugly away from feeling like I need to helicopter. Volleyball is one of the only arenas in which Twelve doesn't enjoy high status, and seeing one's child be less-than-good at something isn't easy or fun. I won't go so far as to claim that Twelve's volleyball skills make interactions with the other parents awkward, since my interactions with other parents always feel awkward, but I see how having particularly high-achieving or low-achieving children would affect one's attitude. If Twelve was a star player, I'd be smug. Most certainly smug. If she was the worst player on the team, I'd be supportive of her and gracious to the other parents, but it would sting.

Of all the feminist theory I've read, I can't think of anyone who has addressed, head-on, all the ways in which people are competitive that don't neatly fit into the systems of privilege and oppression. Class privilege is a huge factor, of course, but it's so much more nuanced than that. Who gets playing time and who doesn't, who is on time for the game and who isn't, who carpools with whom, and so on. Maybe the point would be to sort all of the mini status markers into the basic privilege and oppression categories, or maybe not. Some of these minor points of relative status have to do with social class, some undoubtedly with looks, but I suspect that the human capacity for competition extends beyond our current system of categorizing it. Maybe there are more systems of privilege and oppression still to be named! It's almost too bad that my dissertation topic is firmly established.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Title Nine Matters, Dammit (and Height Does Not)

Having successfully executed her birthday trip, Twelve and I just sat down to relax in front of the Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium. Twelve likes Jon Stewart; I'm not sure she gets most of the humor and it's one of the few things we almost always say yes to watching, but there aren't many others I'd rather have shaping her political and comical sensibilities, so there it is.

The debate was just fine, though the moderator was terrible and I could have done with much less talking over each other and many fewer references to who's taller than whom.

As a tall person, I find such references tedious, and as a tall person with a small crush on Jon Stewart, I get a little bit defensive when bullies pick on him.

It was Jon's example of "the connection between government action and moving forward" that really got to me. At the Republican National Convention they made a huge deal of the fact that, if American women were a country, they would have placed ninth in the Olympics. I wasn't sure what Jon's point was at first, and I was just realizing where he was going with it when he mentioned Title IV and I burst into tears.

Granted, it's absolutely, wonderfully ironic that the Republicans used this as an example during 'We Built It' night: Had Title IV not been forcibly enacted forty years ago, American women athletes would not have won 58 medals in the 2012 Olympic Games. Period.

Republicans are idiots. 

That's not what overwhelmed me in that moment, though. Yes, my emotional girders had been mostly sawn through by the strain of having rather successfully orchestrated a birthday outing that included six seventh graders, two infants, six members of my extended family, three parents of Twelve's friends that I had barely met, one stop at a seventh grade football game, and which culminated at my brother-in-law's family farm of corn mazes, pumpkins, and general awesomeness.

What brought me to tears was the historical significance of Title IV. The legislation that Bernice Sandler, Edith Green, and Patsy Mink made happen in the early 1970s was tremendously, incredibly, amazingly significant to women's access to education and athletics. It's why my mom was able to run track a few years later at a major university and why I ran in the 90s. It's what allowed our 17-year-old friend to kick ass at her state track meet last June. It's why Twelve's lack of athletic ability is due more to her personal disinterest than by lack of opportunity.

Twelve had wandered off by that point in the Rumble, so I called her back in and 'rewound' a bit. She didn't bother to be rude about it, but she didn't get it. She thought it was pretty dumb that Mom was crying about it, but was otherwise unimpressed.

How can you not get this? Oh ... maybe you don't remember that you saw Bernice Sandler speak when you were seven years old.

It's also possible that, when she was seven, Twelve didn't grasp the significance of seeing Bernice Sandler speak. Yes, I took her to see a bunch of awesome people when she was far too young to appreciate any of them, but the bottom line is that Twelve is coming of age in a time when women's participation in sports is taken for granted to an extent that it's never been before.

I know it's not perfect yet: We've still got what's-her-name making news because she's gorgeous and not because she's really good at driving cars supersuperfast. We've still got Hope Solo, whose story would be a lot less compelling - or at least a lot less thoroughly covered by the media - if she wasn't so darn hot. But it's getting better, and particularly if you don't subscribe to ESPN magazine: R and I watched one of the final women's Olympic soccer games with Twelve at our local indoor sports park, I forget which one, and I was struck by the fact that for Twelve, a bunch of youngish men sitting around a bar watching women's soccer was totally normal. The men were taking it perfectly seriously, Twelve and I were the only women there, and I had one of those moments when I realized that it's no wonder that she doesn't quite get it when I talk about feminism.

Would I appreciate it if Twelve showed the slightest interest in any of the things in which I hold graduate degrees? Yeah, that would be nice. I would like her to understand that not all generations of girls have been able to just sign up for a volleyball season through the Boys and Girls Club. I would like her to get that it's a big damn deal that her grandmother ran the 400 meter dash in college in 1970-something. I would like her to be able to articulate the fact that women are able to vote in this country because Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony introduced the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution and that FORTY-TWO YEARS LATER it was finally adopted. I would like her to know that women DIED so that she will have the right to vote in five years.

Holy fucking shit. In five years, Twelve will be old enough to vote.

In two years, we'll be teaching her to drive, and in three, our state will give her a license to drive all by herself. Whether or not her dad follows through on his promise to give her a truck, that's a lot to think about.

Ummm ... I think I need some more tequila.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Misery, Multivitamins, and Blow-drying Your Face

It's official: I don't want to write about the sad stuff. Two weeks into Twelve's summer visit with her dad, she pretty much stopped calling me to say goodnight.

For the last three or four years, a phone call at bedtime has been our ritual when Twelve's been visiting her dad. With time zone differences and early bedtimes, sometimes I'd miss her call and she'd leave a message. Until least year, the first few nights of each visit she'd call in tears, missing home and mommy. I would comfort her as best I could and eventually tell her that she needs to be brave and go to sleep. Yes, you heard that right; from thousands of miles away, I was doing the actual parenting.

You can imagine how it felt to admonish my eight-year-old to stop crying and go to sleep. I'll sum it up for those of you lacking empathy or imagination: Awful. Also enraging, since after all I had done the first eight years on my own and then, once I got her to the point when she could navigate transcontinental travel on her own, someone else got to just swoop in and enjoy the fruit of my labor? Take credit for it, even!? I'd have said indignantly, "I don't THINK so!" except that it was already happening, was approved and encouraged by a legal system that would have compelled me to participate had I resisted, and will continue to happen indefinitely.

Had I been keeping a diary then, I wouldn't have written about that, either.

I also don't write when I am miserable. It was completely unrelated to Twelve, but I had a couple (okay, four) weeks of being kinda miserable. It may have been depression. It may be that my life is stressful and, when life is stressful, those trying to live it don't tend to function all that well. As I said to my child-and-family-therapist friend, being diagnosed with Depression would validate the way I feel. As she said to me, why does it matter? Life is stressful and stress makes it difficult to function. Why does labeling it Depression make a difference?

Either way, seeing a counselor ('free' with the university fees they make me pay anyway) is on my list of things to do.

Either way, I'm giving myself more freedom to be nonfunctional.

I remember the first and only time I held my mother as she cried. I was seventeen or eighteen; I came into the kitchen and found her on the phone, crying. I had no idea what was going on, but went over and put my arms around her. She had just found out that her mother had been diagnosed with leukemia. Twelve did the same for me the other night when I came home crying. She rocked us back and forth and made comforting noises. (It must be one of those skills that people who were well parented have without knowing they have it - like rocking babies or using scaffolding when reading to preschoolers.) I was crying about something absolutely trivial but the fact that I broke down over it was the telling thing. And Twelve's response was spot on; also telling.

To my eternal gratitude, the missed phone calls didn't foreshadow much of anything; Twelve came home at the end of summer just as she should be. Changed, I'm sure, as must always happen, but still herself in the important ways. A bit more materialistic, which is galling, but still willing to look for and excited about finding a Juicy Couture hoodie for five bucks at a thrift shop.

I've returned, more or less, to my usual equanimity; I'm less prone to choking up and haven't cried all week. I've resolved to not need a capital-D Diagnosis of Depression to be okay with how I feel if I don't feel good.

I'm 'taking better care of myself' via the occasional vitamin, even though I really hate taking vitamins. The B vitamins are supposed to be important to one's mood, and I'm supposed to be taking a multivitamin with calcium anyway so that's something to report at my next check-up. 

We've even gone to the gym twice this week before school, Twelve and I together; thank goodness she wants to do this, or it would not be happening. I feel fine about getting an earlier start to my day, but I can't say that euphoria sets in at 7:15 am. Perhaps it's a delayed reaction? We'll see.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention: Twelve became Thirteen today. I'm not sure what that does to my diary; I have a few scribbles of entries I still want to write, and she still does impossible things, like coming into the bathroom during my shower with the cheerful announcement that she has to blow-dry her face. Like you going back to re-read that sentence, I was sure I had misheard, so I peeked out to check. Sure enough, she was buzzing her face industriously with the hairdryer. When she finished, I asked what that was all about. "Warming up my face gives me a good complexion: It's like makeup without makeup!"

I had, and continue to have, absolutely no reply to that.